“I like to watch,” Chance the Gardener says in Being There. That sums up how America feels about sex. We like to watch. Nearly two thirds of American males watch porn monthly. We don’t have enough sex, but we sure like to think about it. The French have sex. The Germans make their way through sex. The English do their best. The people of China, India and Bangladesh are clearly spending more than enough time procreating. Americans like to watch. Enter Fifty Shades of Grey.
Fifty Shades of Grey is about a silly young female who is a virgin and blushes at the idea of sexual activity. She’s kind of like the sheep in Everything You Want to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask. The sheep originally was innocent, white and woolly, but before you knew it, she was willing to be part of a bondage act in a hotel room with Gene Wilder leaving pasture and shepherd behind, she willingly submitted to indignities, no sheep should have to bear.
Our young virgin in 50 Shades is taken in by a cruel narcissist and is willing to submit to long periods of going over contracts when she could have been having real sex. Viewers of the movie who are part of the BDSM community, folks who frolic in the public dungeons of San Francisco, New York and Austin were sorely disappointed by this film. Americans have a lot of fetishes and at a dungeon like The Citadel, you can see your share of doms and subs, kinks and queers. In this movie, what you get is the 1950s version of sex. Christian Grey is a caricature of Mad Men and our little anointed girl is the one you always hoped to meet in the Fifties, a little faun of a creature who is going to get excited by your perversions, follow your instructions, kneel by your bedside, be impressed by your money, in short a lot of old guys’ wet dream. Christian Grey is an old man in a young man’s suit. He doesn’t see women as people but as animals for his pursuit and pleasure. The girl sees him as a thing as well. A thing to knock her out of the deadly doldrums of her life, and what girl wouldn’t want a man to ignore her, whip her, tell her what to do, as long as he has enough money. American men’s big dream: You have enough money that you can treat women like hookers and they pretend to enjoy it.
50 Shades of Grey is Mommy porn. The moms of America are not getting laid nearly enough if this is their idea of fun. I’m going to tell you something ladies. Watching this movie is not going to make you edgy or cool or romantic. Romance doesn’t happen from watching sex. It doesn’t happen at strip bars or watching or enacting sex shows in dungeons.
Romance isn’t part of 50 Shades of Grey at all. It’s more about lust, ritual, contracts and a shadowy weak version of the real BDSM world. The real BDSM world is complex but crazier, dirtier, wetter and has much more action than the movie. It’s complex in that it’s safe and wild at the same time. Fetishes and ritual can be fun, like climbing mountains or cliff diving. We all have our passions. But romance, is a whole other thing.
Americans want love and happiness. We feel we are entitled to it. But we’ve substituted watching sex for love. We’ve got movies like 50 Shades confused with passion. Passion isn’t something you experience for whips and neckties or well appointed rooms.
I am very sure where love, happiness and passion come from in my world. My husband had emergency open heart surgery on March 19th, 2015. The surgeon held his heart and replaced one valve. He closed the heart back into the body. Kids and husband, writing and stories, life and magic. Neruda wrote, “I want do with you what spring does with cherry trees… The moon lives in the lining of your skin.” I recognize that as the language of love and passion. When my husband is well, I will figure that out, what the spring does with cherry trees, and go for it. I don’t need any books or movies. 50 Shades is about pretend love, play sex. I’m a woman now, not a boy collector, not a toy collector. Edgy for me is the kind of romance you can sink your teeth into, your tongue, your whole heart.
In my favorite romantic movie, The English Patient, Ondaatje writes, “The heart is an organ of fire.” I watched the surgeon’s fingers when he came to talk with us before the surgery. His fingers were long and graceful as a girl’s. I didn’t want to touch his hands. That’s my heart you’re going to be holding, I wanted to say. I love that man, “The heart is an organ of fire.”